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The CCTV 2016 Chinese New Year’s Gala Propaganda Disaster

[Editor’s Note: China Central Television (CCTV) started broadcasting a special Chinese New Year celebration program in 1983. This Chinese New Year’s Gala, also called the Spring Festival Gala and commonly abbreviated in Chinese as chunwan (春晚), consists of songs, dances, talk show segments, acrobatics, martial arts performances, and other forms of entertainment.

While there is always some of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) propaganda embedded in the performances, the public generally finds the show entertaining. Many Chinese watch it on Chinese New Year’s eve, from 7:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., to welcome in the New Year.

This year, the Chinese people felt that the CCTV 2016 Chinese New Year’s Gala on February 7, 2016, carried an unbearable amount of propaganda. Netizens flooded the Internet with so much criticism that the CCP’s Internet guards remained frantically busy deleting them. Of course, the Chinese media praised the show as a great success.

Many overseas Chinese media reported this propaganda disaster. Reports from a number of different sources follow.]

The Chinese New Year’s Gala

Radio France International Report: [1]

The amount of [the CCP’s] ideology implanted into this year’s chunwan was unprecedented. Many programs promoted the “main theme” [Editor’s note: the CCP’s ideology] and had a strong political flavor. This resulted in a lot of criticism over the Internet.

In the land that has over five thousand years of traditional culture, the CCP’s control over public entertainment has become increasingly strict. Writer “Nanjinglong” said, “Every word, every action, every gesture, and even every facial expression in the chunwan was reviewed repeatedly to measure the amount of ‘positive energy’ [Editor’s note: consistency with the CCP’s values] and the effect of the propaganda: whether it would create praise or criticism for the CCP and whether it would encourage or discourage people. This was clearly revealed in CCTV head Nie Chenxi’s statement in which he observed, ‘Chunwan was a major political task that the Party assigned to CCTV.’”

A netizen posted on Weibo (a microblog site): “Too much ‘main theme.’ Even the lines of the hosts and hostesses were political. Communism is not from China. Chinese New Year is China’s traditional holiday, with a much longer history than the CCP. If you want to promote the ‘main theme,’ you can do it non-stop on July 1 [Editor’s note: July 1 is the anniversary of the CCP] or October 1 [Editor’s note: October 1 is the anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, which is under the CCP’s rule]. I can live with that. But this is Chinese New Year. The tradition is just to let people have fun. Why [do you] make it so political?”

Voice of America Report: [2]

The theme of this year’s chunwan was “Your and My China Dream.” It lasted about five hours. In addition to the main stage in Beijing, it also added four satellite stages in Quanzhou (Fujian Province), Xi’an (Shaanxi Province), Guangzhou (Guangdong Province), and Hulunbuir (Inner Mongolia). CCTV said that this arrangement was to show the concept of “[In] East, South, West, North, and Central [China], people are all celebrating.” After chunwan, CCTV released statistics showing that 1 billion people (including those overseas) watched the broadcast on New Year’s Eve.

Lv Yitao, Director of the 2016 chunwan stated that he would rate chunwan 100 [out of 100] points. He said, “I felt that I have delivered a satisfactory answer.” As to the public’s criticism, he said, “If the comments are good, we accept them; if they are bad, we just ignore them.”

Epoch Times Report: [3]

Chen Youxi, a famous attorney, said of Lv on Weibo, “His face is bullet-proof [from feeling shame].”

A man named Zhao said with his tongue in his cheek, “Seeing a young director under the age of 40 with such a high political consciousness, the Party must have smiled whole heartedly!”

Epoch Times Report: [4]

From another netizen, “This was the 2016 chunwan. Not only was it boring and empty, but [the CCP’s] ideology also permeated the boredom and emptiness overwhelmingly. This is the biggest difference from previous chunwans. … Producing such a show with a young director under 40 is not only a pity for our generation, but also a deep worry for our nation.”

Voice of America Report: [5]

Tian Qizhuang pointed out that chunwan “has become a lecture, propaganda, or some kind of brainwashing event.” “It is contrary to the original entertainment goal.”

Former State Council official Yu Meisun also felt it was “inappropriate” for chunwan to spend five hours praising the CCP. “Today there is a severe corruption problem in China, including corruption within the Party and corruption among officials and businesses. Praising the Party at this time is inappropriate. Nobody is interested in it.”

Internet monitors for each main online social media worked very hard after Chinese New Year’s eve. They kept deleting negative comments about chunwan. Weibo account @Zuoyeben, which has 8.77 million followers, made this comment: “Weibo does not allow people to comment on chunwan. It keeps deleting postings. What are you guys doing here? If you are so afraid of people’s comments, why didn’t you just not broadcast chunwan at all?”

It seems that the “top” doesn’t just want to ignore the negative comments; it wants to make sure “they don’t exist.”

A Political Setup?

Radio France International Report: [6]

Wu Jiaxiang, who once worked for the CCP Central Committee and its General Office and is now a freelance commentator, published an article on the web saying that chunwan was the “most disgusting art disaster.” He said it was a battle between two ideological schools. It was a setup to “praise (Xi Jinping) openly while stabbing him in the back privately” and digging a hole to “let the one being praised jump in.”

His article, which has been deleted, pointed out, “The year of the monkey chunwan was an ‘art disaster much like the stock market disaster in June of last year. They have several things in common. First, both appeared as a sudden attack. Second, a large number of people were hurt. The stock market disaster hurt investors in the market, while the art disaster hurt the audience. Third, they both set records in history. The stock market disaster set the record of creating the deepest fall in the shortest time and the art disaster set the record of creating the most disgusting [event].”

Wu said that the two also had something else in common. They resulted from the top leaders’ battle for power during the transition period. The transition in China is different from that in democratic countries. In a democratic country, the power transition is just a power transition. There may be multiple parties, but they all share similar ideas about democracy and a market economy. However, in China, there are two schools of ideology within the Party: modernity (following the modern governance concept) and anti-modernity (traditional CCP one-party rule). Therefore, the power transition in China involves a full-spectrum war in five areas: one, the gun (the military); two, handcuffs (the anti-corruption campaign; three, the wallet (the financial and economic arena); four, the pen (the media, the arts, and culture); and five, the head (ideology and think tanks).

Wu’s article said that, by the end of the 18th CCP Congress, the battles in fields one and two were almost over [with Xi Jinping enjoying a complete victory]; intense fighting is still going on in field three; and [Xi’s opponents] are creating battles in fields four and five to reduce the pressure on field three. [With so many ideology slogans and praises to Xi in chunwan that would greatly irritate the public,] the obvious characteristic of this art disaster is to “praise (Xi Jinping) openly while stabbing him in the back privately.” It used the Cultural Revolution style expression to praise [Xi] and, at the same time, to dig a hole [for Xi] to jump into. Then they mobilized the whole Internet to bury him with criticism.

Weibo Account Fengmingguiguo Postings: [7]

Fengmingguiguo (奉命归国) is a high profile Weibo account in China. Some have speculated that this account belongs to Xi Jinping’s daughter Xi Mingze (习明泽), who graduated from Harvard University in 2014 and returned to China to help her father. In Chinese, the account name means, “being called to return to China.”

On February 8 and February 11, Fengmingguiguo posted several comments related to chunwan.

2-8 11:48
When CCTV interviewed Lv Yitao (Weibo account @吕逸涛-俊霖), he said that he gave this year’s chunwan 100 points. Have you seen the monkey year’s chunwan? How many points do you give it?

2-8 16:36
The more you dig the hole, the faster you will die.

2-8 22:27
Shameless! [A comment on the following Weibo posting:] // Lv Yitao (@吕逸涛-俊霖) said that “it was basically the directors who designed chunwan in order to offer new ideas and new highlights,” and “[we] have delivered a satisfactory answer.” As to the audience’ comments, director Lv said, “If comments are good, we can accept them; if they are bad, we can ignore them.”

2-11 21:02
It is a horrible thing that people working with the leader do not know what the leader thinks and often misread his mind. If they do bad things and purposely dig a hole [for the leader] or defame [the leader], they will end up digging a hole in which they bury themselves.

Netizens’ Jokes

Voice of America Report: [8]

“Chunwan is a theater version of the CCTV News Broadcast.” [Editor’s note: the CCTV News Broadcast is a thirty-minute daily news report that is known for spreading Party propaganda.]

“This year’s chunwan finally solved the problem that different viewers have different tastes. All audience members uniformly thought it was garbage.”

Epoch Times Report: [9]

“Feedback on 2016 chunwan:

One – I thought it was to watch an entertainment performance, but it was actually to participate in a Party meeting.

Two – This thing was not chunwan; it was the 19th CCP National Congress.

This thing was not chunwan; it was a problem set for a Graduate School Political Exam.

This thing was not chunwan; it was a government work report.

This thing was not chunwan; it was a special CCTV News Broadcast.”

“If anyone missed a CCTV News Broadcast in the past year he made up for it tonight.”

“Whoever managed to watch the whole chunwan this year will be able to stand any hardship in 2016.”

“This year’s chunwan achieved a totally new realm on the level of garbage. [The level was so above us that we] couldn’t come up with any jokes to criticize it.”

“In previous years, criticizing chunwan was still like a lover’s quarrel. This year, it was a direct separation.”

Epoch Times Report: [10]

“The director of chunwan gave himself 100 points. This made me feel at ease: his IQ and directing skills are at the same level.”

“This chunwan is undoubtedly the darkest time for joke writers. In the past, we tried our best to make fun of the art teacher, but this time it was a political education teacher monitoring the exam.”

“In the past, [chunwan] flavored performances with the ‘main theme.’ This year, it flavored the ‘main theme’ with performances.”

“Live report from chunwan: Many audience members fainted. While the doctor who was busy rescuing people, an inconsiderate reporter interviewed him for his comments. The doctor said, ‘I only want to point out one fact: For adults, the safe dosage of a CCTV News Broadcast is 30 minutes per day. Occasionally it can go to 40 minutes. Today, each person was given a five-hour dose. It is absolutely normal for them to feel undiscomfort.’”

“North Korea’s missile technology is catching up with China. China’s performance level is catching up with North Korea!” [Editor’s note: North Korea is notorious for spreading propaganda to its citizens no matter what the circumstance.]

“If there had been a stock market style circuit breaker in chunwan, it would have stopped a long time ago.”

“Strongly recommend Xiao Gang manage chunwan next year. Strongly request to add a stock market style circuit breaker to chunwan.” [Editor’s note: Xiao Gang is the Chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission. He introduced the circuit breaker system that stopped China’s stock trading twice in January 2016.]

Mingjing News Report: [11]

“This years’ chunwan had too much Party stuff in it. You couldn’t watch it without proper attire. I asked my mother to look for my red scarf.” [Editor’s note: Communist Young Pioneer members are children between the age of six and fourteen. They wear the red scarf to symbolize that they are members of the Communist organizations.]

“Chunwan’s love confession [to the CCP was so strong] that even someone like me who loves the CCP so much could not stand it!”

“How I wished to see singer Ms. Li Guyi much earlier.” [Editor’s note: Chunwan has a convention that Ms. Li Guyi sings the song “Hard to Forget Tonight” as the last program of chunwan.]

“I have a wish. Can we let Ms. Li Guyi sing ‘Hard to Forget Tonight’ when chunwan starts?”

“This chunwan is from the supply side, not from the demand side.”

“We must apologize to all previous years of chunwan that we criticized [since they were not the worst after all].”。

“Audiences, tonight’s CCTV News Broadcast [nicknamed ‘chunwan’] will run for five hours…”

“This year’s chunwan was like a CCP report from the 18th Party Congress. I didn’t dare to go to bathroom. … After watching it, I felt that I was one step closer to the ‘China dream.’”

“This year’s chunwan was the best CCTV News Broadcast that I have seen in the past 30 years. It abandoned the traditional reporter and the video style. Instead, it included songs, dancing, talk shows, and VCRs. It explained the Party’s good policies, the country’s prosperity, and the people’s happiness. It was a breakthrough in news reporting. This innovation cut into people’s brains and hearts. It would be worthwhile to have all comrades working in the propaganda field learn it.”

“Finally, when CCTV’s chunwan was about to end, I realized how strong my endurance is. I can’t remember how long it has been since I last watched a CCTV program. Today, with the help of Wechat, I managed to sit through the whole program.” [Editor’s note: Throughout the show chunwan gave out a lot of gifts in the form of small amounts of money. People could claim them through Wechat.]

“Whoever is still watching chunwan does not have an Internet connection [so they can’t do other things].”

“Obviously it was a July 1 show to celebrate the Party’s anniversary, but they told the public it was chunwan…”

Criticism of Director Lv Yitao

Many Chinese netizens were angry about how director Lv Yitao’ handled chunwan, particularly that he gave himself a score of 100 out of 100 for its performance. However, the netizens couldn’t find a place to express their anger. The comment function of every one of Lv’s Internet postings had been turned off so there was no central place on the Internet for people to criticize him. Of course, any negative message about Lv was deleted.

Eventually an opportunity came on February 12. Expressing condolences over the passing of artist Yan Su, Lv posted a message on his Weibo account @Lv Yitao-Junlin, “Yan, have a safe journey [to the other world].” That message did allow comments.

Chinese netizens flooded the comment board with messages related to chunwan: [12]

“Ha ha, did you really think that nobody would scold you under this posting? Seeing so many people are cursing you here, I can now sleep soundly.”

“Sometimes a person is still alive, but he has already been sentenced to death [in people’s minds]…”

“Actually, it is not easy to be a director, especially to be a director who ignores the voices of millions of netizens.”

“Please join me if you hate this director.”

“Yan got very angry after watching your chunwan [and then passed away].”

“Go however far you can. … People don’t like you. You created the worst [chunwan] in history.”

“I just want to ask you a question: do you feel ashamed of yourself?”

“Where is your face? [Have you lost it?]”

“Look at you, the whole nation is scolding you as if you were garbage.”

“Unprecedentedly shameless.”

“Since you did such a good job of polishing the apple [for the Party], you can also direct next years’ chunwan.”

“Yan is lonely there. Why don’t you go join him?”

“Lv, have a safe journey.”

“I just came here to curse you!”

[1] Radio France International Online, “China’s Political Red Monkey Played at the CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala,” February 8, 2016.中国/20160208-政治红猴滑稽闹春晚再被吐槽.
[2] VOA Chinese Online, “Netizens Criticized CCTV New Year’s Gala; it Had Too Much ‘Positive Energy,’” February 8, 2016.
[3] Epoch Times Online, “Chinese Netizens Criticized the Director of CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala,” February 8, 2016.
[4] Epoch Times Online, “Chinese Netizens’ Jokes about CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala: Extended Version of CCTV News Broadcast,” February 8, 2016.
[5] VOA Chinese Online, “Netizens Criticized CCTV New Year’s Gala Had Too Much ‘Positive Energy,’” February 8, 2016.
[6] Radio France International Online, “Wu Jiaxiang Commented CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala: Praising (Xi) Openly While Stabbing (Him) in the Back Privately,” February 9, 2016.中国/20160209-吴稼祥评春晚“佯颂阴损”让“被颂者往里跳”.
[7] Weibo, “FengmingguiguoA.”
[8] VOA Chinese Online, “Netizens Criticized CCTV New Year’s Gala Had Too Much ‘Positive Energy,’” February 8, 2016.
[9] Epoch Times Online, “Chinese Netizens’ Jokes about CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala,” February 8, 2016.
[10] Epoch Times Online, “Chinese Netizens’ Jokes about CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala: Extended Version of CCTV News Broadcast,” February 8, 2016.
[11] Mingjing News Online, “Most Frequently Republished Jokes about CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala,” February 9, 2016.
[12] Weibo, “Lv Yitao – Junlin.”